The Case for Clutter

   Cartoon clutter by Edward Koren.  Source of cartoon:  online version of the NYT article cited below.


(p. D1)  But contrarian voices can be heard in the wilderness. An anti-anticlutter movement is afoot, one that says yes to mess and urges you to embrace your disorder. Studies are piling up that show that messy desks are the vivid signatures of people with creative, limber minds (who reap higher salaries than those with neat ”office landscapes”) and that messy closet owners are probably better parents and nicer and cooler than their tidier counterparts. It’s a movement that confirms what you have known, deep down, all along: really neat people are not avatars of the good life; they are humorless and inflexible prigs, and have way too much time on their hands.

. . .

(p. D6)  Mr. Freedman is co-author, with Eric Abrahamson, of ”A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder,” out in two weeks from Little, Brown & Company. The book is a meandering, engaging tour of beneficial mess and the systems and individuals reaping those benefits, . . . 


For the full story, see: 

PENELOPE GREEN.  "Saying Yes to Mess."  The New York Times (Thurs., December 21, 2006):  D1 & D6.

(Note:  the ellipses are added.)


The reference to the new book: 

Abrahamson, Eric, and David H. Freedman. A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder–How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and on-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place. New York: Little, Brown & Company, 2007.


    Don Springer won his company’s contest for having the worst clutter.  Source of photo:   online version of the NYT article cited above.


Warm Winter Benefits Poor


THE recent warm weather in the Northeast might not have been great for makers of winter coats, but the economy and markets could be poised for a small fillip.

. . .

Putting agriculture aside, there are other potentially important macroeconomic effects, said Michael Greenstone, a professor of environmental economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The basic idea is that extremes of temperatures, really hot and really cold, are dangerous for human health,” he said. “To the extent that the recent warm weather on the East Coast moved us from cold days to more moderate days, that’s likely to reduce mortality rates. Having more people around is obviously good for consumption and economic activity.”

. . .  

The temporary warm weather does have very real benefits for poor families.

A warm winter can relax their financial constraints by requiring less spending on heating, said Steven J. Haider, an associate professor of economics at Michigan State University.

“They often are making very tough decisions, whether those decisions are paying bills, child care, clothes or food during a particular month,” he said. “If there is a cold-weather shock, and their heating bill goes up in a particular month, there are poor people who struggle.”

Professor Haider and three colleagues researched the effect of weather on poor families’ budgets and found that there were substantial effects from extreme temperatures.

“For the short-run effects that we’re seeing this year, the answer is, yes, the poor families are feeling a little less constrained,” he said. “I’m sure the families have other important uses for that money.”

Indeed, lower demand for heating oil in the United States, along with rising inventories for other refined petroleum products, has helped to push crude oil prices down— a boon for the rest of the world, too.


For the full commentary, see:

DANIEL ALTMAN.  "ECONOMIC VIEW; A Tepid Winter Warms Some Wallets."  The New York Times, Section 3  (Sun., January 14, 2007):  4.

(Note:  ellipses added.)


International Trade Helps Poor African Cotton Farmer

   Left photo shows Dennis Okelo in the grocery store that he opened with savings from growing cotton, and selling it to Dunavant.  Right photo shows a Dunavant cotton gin in Zambia.  Source of photos:  online version of the NYT article cited below.


(p. 1)  WHERE is he?” the old woman asks. “Where is he?”

Finding Dennis Okelo used to be easy. The old woman — and most other people in a village outside of Lira, the provincial capital of northern Uganda — went directly to Mr. Okelo’s fields. He was always in one of his “gardens,” with his slacks rolled up above his calves and a short hoe close by. Or he was seated outside of his mud-brick house under a banana tree.

Then cotton growing revived in Uganda, and Dunavant Enterprises came to town about five years ago, paying cash on delivery. After three seasons of growing cotton for Dunavant, the world’s largest privately owned cotton broker and one of the biggest family-owned agribusinesses in the United States, Mr. Okelo, who owns less than three acres and has two wives and a passel of children, had saved $300, about double his annual earnings before Dunavant started buying his cotton.

Last summer, Mr. Okelo opened a grocery store, which is where the old woman finally found him: smiling, standing behind the wooden plank that serves as his service counter in a shop the size of a utility shed. The grocery, one of two in the village, carries dried foods, cooking oil, matches, cosmetics, batteries and candy.

“Before Dunavant, no one came to help us,” says Mr. Okelo, 40, who has farmed a variety of crops in these parts for about 20 years.

. . .

(p. 7)  IN his small shop, Mr. Okelo knows nothing of global developments in the cotton trade even though he is a direct beneficiary of them. He started farming during the lean years in Uganda, after the ouster of the country’s notorious dictator, Idi Amin, when the cultivation of cotton lagged so badly that production nearly ceased and farmers treated the crop like a weed.

A few years ago, as Uganda’s production began to revive, Dunavant’s trainers taught Mr. Okelo to grow cotton in straight rows and to use a string to measure precisely the distance between rows, to maximize plantings. Mr. Okelo’s new methods are basic, but in a part of Africa where farmers work the land chiefly with a hoe — and tractors, fertilizer and pesticides are rarities — even basic improvements can lead to large gains in production.

“Cotton is the crop that gives farmers the best money,” Mr. Okelo said. “I want Dunavant to be even closer to me.”


For the full story, see: 

G. PASCAL ZACHARY. Out of Africa: Cotton and Cash." The New York Times, Section 3 (Sun., January 14, 2007): 1 & 7.

(Note:  ellipses added.)


 DunvanantWilliamCottonEntrepreur.jpg   William B. Dunavant, Jr.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited above.


Reagan’s Resolve


In this anecdote from the Bosch book, Reagan’s son Ron (who has often been critical of his father) tells of an expedition with his father to collect flagstone for eventual use in building a patio:

(p. 140, footnote 11)  We went out to retrieve a lot of these big heavy stones and load them into a little trailer that would be then hauled behind this ancient old original Jeep.  I mean this was just like the proto-Jeep that he still had, because he’d never throw anything away.  And so we’d, you know, spend a few hours hauling these big heavy rocks and we’d load them into the little trailer.  It’s now piled high.  It must weigh tons.  Climb back into the Jeep and head up this slope that’s steep.  I mean this is steep.  And on one side you’ve got a sheer drop to the Santa Ynez Valley, you know, 2,000 feet below, and on the other side a gully full of rocks.  And we’re hauling this huge mass of sandstone behind us.  Now this Jeep, this poor thing, it’s…it’s not going to make it.  And about three-quarters of the way up this steep hill, it starts to give out.  And it’s mmm-mmm-mmm, and it becomes apparent that we’re not going to crest the hill.  And now we’re actually going backwards.  We’re not hauling the rocks, the rocks are hauling us.  And I’m ready to get out.  Not him.  He’s—handling it.  He’s going to back this thing down, by God.  And he does…and we make it down…the rocks haul us back down the hill, but we manage to stay on the road.  Now I’m thinking, well, OK, so now we’re going to turn around and go some other way, because there’s no way we’re going up, we’re not going to try that again.  Oh no, no, we’re going to go up that hill.  You know, by God, we’re going up that hill.  I…it must have taken us three or four tries, of getting almost up the hill and being hauled back down, and each time I’m thinking OK, you know, which way do I jump.  He’s cool as a cucumber.  Didn’t bother him at all.



Bosch, Adriana. Reagan: An American Story. TV Books Inc., 1998.

(Note:  ellipses in original.)



Barney Frank on Schumpeter’s “Great Concept”

FrankBarney.jpg   Barney Frank. Source of photo:


Policy-makers are often enthused by the innovation unleashed by Schumpeter’s process of creative destruction, but draw back out of fear of the destruction of jobs.  In the passage below, Barney Frank expresses that fear.

I think that there are answers to the fear.  More and better jobs are created, than destroyed; workers can invest in general skills that do not depreciate, and retool the specific skills that do depreciate; and conscientious workers suffer from lack of recognition and upward mobility, when creative destruction is stiffled.  The pain is less than usually thought, and the gain is greater. 


One of the consequences of this separation between economic growth and the well-being of the great majority of citizens is that an increasing number of citizens don’t care about economic growth.  Not surprising.  Not only do they not benefit, but in many cases they get the short-term disruptive effects.

I mean, there was a great concept from Joseph Schumpeter of creative destruction in which, as the old economic order is destroyed, resources are freed up for the new order.

Well, increasingly, we have people who see the destruction in their own lives, but don’t see that they’re going to be part of the new creation.



Transcript of remarks delivered at the National Press Club on "Wages" by Democratic Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, on January 3, 2007.


Increase in Minimum Wage, Decreases Employment Among Low-Skill Workers

Basic price theory seems to imply that raising the minimum wage, will result in greater unemployment.  Almost all economists accepted this conclusion until several years ago, when some empirical results seemed to challenge it.  Now there is active debate. 

Here is the abstract of a relevant, just-published, article in the leading journal in the field of labor economics:


We infer the employment response to a minimum wage change by calibrating a model of employment for the restaurant industry. Whereas perfect competition implies that employment falls and prices rise after a minimum wage increase, the monopsony model potentially implies the opposite. We show that estimated price responses are consistent with the competitive model. We place fairly tight bounds on the employment response, with the most plausible parameter values suggesting that a 10% increase in the minimum wage lowers low-skill employment by 2%-4% and total restaurant employment by 1%-3%.


The article reference is:

Aaronson, Daniel, and Eric French. "Product Market Evidence on the Employment Effects of the Minimum Wage." Journal of Labor Economics 25, no. 1 (Jan. 2007): 167-200.


At Screen Actors Guild, Communists Threatened to Disfigure His Face

ReaganAnAmericanStoryBK.jpg   Source of book image:


There are better books on Reagan.  But Bosch’s book has a few illuminating anecdotes.  Here is one:

(p. 63)  Reagan first learned about Communists and their intentions as a member of a Hollywood union, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).  He had been introduced to the Screen actors Guild by his wife Jane Wyman and had quickly risen to become a member of the Guild’s board.  As a SAG Board member, and later as its president, he mediated a dispute between two rival unions.  One of the unions, the Conference of Studio Unions (CSU), was led by a suspected Communist, Herb Sorrell.

. . .  

(p. 64)  Sorrell and Reagan went head to head.  When Reagan crossed a picket line outside Warner Brothers, Sorrell called for a boycott of his movies.  Reagan was called a fascist.  An anonymous phone caller threatened to disfigure his face so he could never act again.  He began to carry a gun and accepted police protection.  He became an informant for the FBI 

"These were eye-opening years for me," he later wrote.  "Now I knew form first-hand experience how Communists used lies, deceit, violence, or any other tactic that suited them to advance the cause of Soviet expansionism."



Bosch, Adriana.  Reagan: An American Story.  TV Books Inc., 1998.